Toronto is a vast city built along the north shore of Lake Ontario where an ever growing number of high- rise buildings are filling in the skyline in the downtown core and spreading out like an unchecked virus across the 45 kilometers of shoreline that stretch east and west of the downtown core, creating a sort of sky fortress against nature. Despite this invasion, Toronto remains a place with a vast system of parkland, ravines and nature trails that meander discreetly throughout the city like a complex nervous system. Often, in surprising and unexpected moments of urban life, you come across a portal to another world: For example, if you take the subway to Old Mill Station, you will see a river that eventually heads down to the lake with a path where you can walk and explore underneath the hidden canopy of trees.
There are many similar delightful entry points throughout the city that will take you into a world of trees and flowers and water: from Queen’s Park surrounded by a constant flow of cars; to High Park where you can see cherry blossoms in the spring; to Tommy Thompson Park where you can look back to the cityscape with wonder in your eyes; to paths along the Lower Don River which you can observe from above as you ride the subway, bike, walk, or drive across the Prince Edward Viaduct bridge.
Although there are many wonderful places to connect with nature throughout the city, there is a special place, starting about 10 kilometers to the east of the city, just beyond the Eastern Beaches’ long boardwalk, south of the ever-busy, Kingston-Road corridor where you can still enter an unspoiled and magical place along the shoreline of Lake Ontario, a delicate testament to the wonderful geological heritage that defined the former City of Scarborough and enriches the abundant variety of natural spaces throughout the city. There is a collection of diverse parks and ravines running along to the Scarborough Bluffs that will make you think that you have somehow arrived in cottage country but without having to leave the city boundaries.
I have the privilege of calling these Scarborough Bluffs my home – this stretch of land that I invite you to visit. Let me show you the hidden beauty that’s here waiting for you to see, to experience, to feel, to make your soul smile; but come gently, come in a whisper, come quietly and you will be amazed by the sight of ancient land and lake, go east as far as the Guild Inn and further on to the Rouge Valley. Let your feet walk upon the sands of the one remaining natural shoreline of Grey Abbey and East Point beach. Feel the grains tickling between your toes, run your hand through the lapping waves rushing to shore, hear the wind in the breeze rustling the leaves on the trees, look out into the distance and perhaps, if it’s a clear day, you might even see Niagara Falls on the far shore of Lake Ontario! Wait in stillness for deer shyly passing by, if you come early enough; or stay for the sunset.
Come and be rejuvenated by nature’s beauty, rest awhile, take it all in, but when it’s time for you to return back to your urban dwelling, don’t take the sand away, leave it all as you found it so that the birds and the wildlife and lake will remain as they are, forever beautiful.
Leave as quietly as you came, look back with Portuguese saudade, already missing that which you have not left.
Come visit again when your urban soul feels the need for a little more of that sand and wind and cliffs and primordial nature. Bring your friends; show them how easy it is to escape the bustle of the vibrant city, leaving it behind for a while to connect with something so rare and beautiful, yet so close by that you don’t need to fly away or travel for hours to get there; right here, co-existing on the edge of your busy world, so much of it no further than a TTC bus stop away! But always come back with the anticipation of taking your shoes off as you let the sand pumice your feet and your spirit refreshed by the sight of the lake and sounds of the waves.
The Scarborough Bluffs is a treasure within the City of Toronto. Unwrap it gently, enjoy it, but don’t exchange it for something less worthy. And if it’s not to your liking, politely decline the gift, but leave it untouched for others who, I know, will gladly accept and, more importantly, love it for what it is and not for what it could be. In the future if those who have the power to create change have their way, and are allowed to pave the paths into roads, that will forever change the feel and look of a beautiful shoreline that does not need improvement.
I feel hope in knowing that there’s a Friends of the Bluffs group and other dedicated citizens working tirelessly to defend and protect this little bit of paradise for all to enjoy. I worry that their voices and protests will not be heard loud enough by those in authority who believe that more paved roads along the shore will make it better and more accessible to everyone. It may do so, in theory, but at the cost of changing and destroying the very same place that brought you here in the first place.
Let it be. It’s just a few kilometres of shoreline left to be kept in perpetuity as a gift for generations to come. There is room in the city for everyone and everything, and we must preserve a natural world for those who, when tired of the concrete and noise of the city core, want to take time to come and experience a beautiful part of the city that deserves our respect and good stewardship.
Which path will you choose?